July 23, 2010 Ponte Ulla to Santiago de Compostela

July 23, and here I am in Santiago de Compostela — two days ahead of plan. The weather is perfect, the streets are crowded with pilgrims and tourists, and my legs are tired and sore from walking 266 kms.

I overslept this morning and knocked on Artur’s door at 8:00 — an hour after our planned departure from Ponte Ulla. The nice restaurant owner made us toast, then we donned our mochilas and were off for a 22 km final stage to Santiago.

The day was perfectly uneventful. We dutifully followed the yellow arrows as they snaked us up and down farmland and forest hills, then finally through the suburbs of Santiago. The Via de la Plata brings pilgrims into Santiago from the south, and sure enough our first vista of the cathedral was its southern face. As we wound through the city, though, somehow we ended up approaching the cathedral from its northwest side.

Because he immediately wanted his compostela I showed Artur to the pilgrim office then left him there to check into my hotel, arranged at the last minute (since I wasn’t certain the day of my arrival) by our friends at the Altair. Once I realized my room had two twin beds I returned to the pilgrim office (after lunch) and waited for Artur so I could offer him to stay in my room.  Since he had no room arranged he was happy to accept, so we dumped his stuff in my room, headed to the pilgrim mass, then had a nice dinner at one of the restaurants I ate at with Gail in 2008. Afterward we walked the city and enjoyed taking photos of street minstrels and magicians who seem to be in most every plaza.

As always, the mass was emotional for me. I thought about and prayed for the many pilgrims I’d met and celebrated with gratitude and relief that I’d safely completed this long and challenging endeavor.

Some statistics:

  • Days walked: 10
  • Kilometers walked: 266
  • Avg kms per day: 26.6
  • Miles walked: 166.25
  • Avg miles per day: 16.6

At this point I’m still not sure about walking to Finisterre. I expect it will be very crowded, and I’ll know very few pilgrims. If I do I will leave most likely on Monday, but a Sunday start is also possible. I’ll think and plan more over the next days.

Meantime, tomorrow is festival day and the festival organizers have mounted a huge framework for lights, fireworks and lasers on the cathedral facade. If I can I’ll get a seat in the main plaza and witness what, according to the papers, will be an amazing fireworks show tomorrow night. If not, apparently there are also goods seats at a few nearby parks. Off to bed at the Costa Vella hotel where the room I’m sharing with Artur has a delightful westerly view.

July 22, 2010 A Laxe to Ponte Ulla

After my super long day yesterday I was certain today would be a total drag. I woke up with the kids from the van saying “good morning” to me to practice their English. I thanked one of their leaders once again for helping make a place for me at the albergue and he told me, in Spanish, that he could tell I really needed one. I asked him how he could tell and he pointed to his eyes and drew his fingers down his cheeks then pointed at me. I hadn’t realized I’d looked so desperate, or that my tears (ahem, watery eyes) had been obvious. Yes, I’d shed some tears, mostly after my place at the albergue was assured. I’ve learned about myself that after 25-26 miles of walking I tend to get weepy. Oh well.

Soon Artur hunted me down and after some vending machine coffee we set out. We would walk together all 26 kms to our evening destination of Ponte Ulla.

The walk was through farmlands as well as one small city — Silleda. Not much to say about the walk except that we met about 40 Spanish kids who’re walking together, and Artur told me his battle story.

I learned a few day’s ago that if I could find the right question I could get Artur talking for hours as we walked and that I was always entertained by what he had to say. So we  talked about women priests, Americans, CS Lewis, great military campaigns, transubstantiation, etc. We marveled at an enormous bridge being built in cantilever fashion out over the river valley whose original bridge had given the tiny town its name. Before I knew it we were in Ponte Ulla, our goal for the night. We found a hotel with very inexpensive rooms and the owner agreed to do our laundry!

Here with us in a simple pensione were an English/ Turkish father and daughter and Kjell and Oddbjorg of Norway. We had a cervesa together then dinner separately. Then off to bed for the remaining 20 kms to Santiago. I will arrive 2 days ahead of schedule after a great Via de la Plata.

Can’t believe this camino is just about over. I’ll see how I feel Sunday before making a decision about walking to Finisterre. I’m already feeling a good sense of accomplishment and am  not sure I want to fight the inevitable crowds going to Finisterre. But we’ll see.